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About Queen Bees and other nonsense

July is well on its way and for me, July feels like the end of summer. Wait, I hear you say, summer has only just begun, and July is the most summery of all summer months, so how can it feel like the end of summer?

Well, I have a confession to make – besides being an author, a bookworm, and a blogger, I’m also a passionate beekeeper. And for bees in central Europe, July is pretty much it when it comes to summer. In two weeks I’ll be harvesting the last of honey and then it’s all about preparing the bees for winter.

As I said, I’m a passionate beekeeper, and that’s because I passionately hate bees. You’d probably hate them too if you’d been stung hundreds of times like me. My beekeeping efforts can be reduced to me trying to get some honey out of the hives while avoiding being eaten alive by their occupants. Every year I tell myself it is the last one I’m keeping any bees – and then, spring comes, they start flying around looking cute, pollinating stuff, and I decide, one more year.

It’s been like that for more than a decade now and after a lot of experimenting, I developed a formula for how to get a lot of honey and keep healthy bees with a minimum of effort. I even wanted to write a book about it and I still might, if my romance novels allow me. It will begin with the first step: get your partner to help you and then slowly let them do most of the work.

But, being intimately acquainted with the life of bees it grates on my nerves when I encounter the expression “Queen Bee” connected to women in a position of power who behave as if they were more important than other women. It implies someone spoiled, someone who rules others and doesn’t do it kindly. However, the whole idea that a queen bee rules the beehive is entirely wrong. A hive is not a monarchy – it’s a democracy and a ruthless one, especially for male bees and the queen. If you want to know more about it, try reading “Honeybee Democracy” by Thomas D. Seely.

So, to debunk this nonsense, I’ll describe in a couple of sentences the true life of a queen bee. Her youth is a race against time – if she is among the first to be born, she’ll have a chance to kill all her other sister queens and remain the only one because, as we all know it, there can be only one. Then she’ll embark on a perilous journey to a secret place, known only to the chosen few, where, high above the ground, she will mate with up to twenty males, one after the other. Her partners will all die following the mating, dropping down completely exhausted (that’s how good the sex is). Thus burdened by their seed, the queen will return to her hive, where she’ll remain for the rest of her life, in complete darkness, never to see the sun again, giving birth every two minutes. Her whole life will be controlled by her daughters – they’ll feed her, clean her, tell her if she’s to give birth to a daughter or a son, or, at last, to her successor. Maybe one early summer she’ll get carried away by a rebellion and leave her home in a swarm to find a new habitat. But eventually, she’ll live through many seasons, while her short-lived daughters die around her or get lost on their foraging trips. When she grows old and cannot fulfill her childbearing duty any longer, her daughters will raise her substitute, and she, their old, spent mother will starve in one corner of the hive forgotten by everyone – a queen of everything and of nothing.

Also, honey is actually the vomit of bees.

So, after we’ve clarified these important facts, we might agree that the life of a queen bee would be good material for a romance novel. A reverse harem, dark, suspense, and a generally weird romance novel, so maybe it’s better not to go there. But anyway, the next time someone describes a woman as a Queen Bee to you, feel free to quote me and ask them if they’re sure they know what they’re talking about.

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The Most Romantic Book Moments

Isn’t it interesting that in most books, independently of the genre, we come across romantic elements? Sure, a hero can save the day against all odds, and people can fight against evil and for the freedom of future generations, the mysteries of the past can be revealed and horrible monsters can be sent back to where they came from, but if there is nobody falling in love in the process…well, what’s the point, right?

I guess romance is there to give us something entertaining to read and show us a vulnerable and sensitive side of the characters. And don’t you just love it when you’ve been through thick and thin with the protagonists and know them inside out and firmly believe they should get together because…they MUST. They are just perfect for each other. Their fictional lives would be so much better if they could only stop being so blind!!!

And then – it happens. The moment when everything becomes clear (to us at least). Our hearts tremble as if we were the ones just realizing we are hopelessly, deeply, terribly, IN LOVE.

I live for such moments in books, even though they are sometimes only the beginning of torment and the book characters require a couple of sequels to finally follow their feelings. It becomes even worse when I know that a happy end is not guaranteed. However, that’s what makes me want to read on, no matter how many pages more. How about you?

Here are some romantic book moments that remained etched in my memory forever.

My first favorite romantic moment is from the book “The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula Le Guin, happening between Tenar and Ged. Tenar’s young life has been spent serving dark, ancient, and utterly evil gods, which she abandons to help Ged retrieve a talisman that will bring peace to their world. Ged is a wizard – and as such he seeks only power, not love. So, it will take these two souls another two decades (and two more books) to find their way to each other. And it all starts with this innocent sentence:

“She watched him, and never could she have said what was in her heart as she watched him, in the firelight, in the mountain dusk.”

My heart just bleeds for her, even now, after I know how the story ends, it still does. It sucks to be young, lost, and in love with a wizard.

All that lay ahead of her was unknown. She knew nothing but the desert and the Tombs. What good was that? She knew the turning of a ruined maze, she knew the dances danced before a fallen altar. She knew nothing of forests, or cities, or the hearts of men.”

Ursula Le Guin was a master of such subtleties and I will be forever grateful to her for making Tenar so amazing – Tenar goes on to live a life without Ged, but according to her rules, and many years later, when in her forties, she meets with him again. And yes, women (and men) in their forties can find true love. It’s not reserved for young people only.

The second favorite romantic moment chosen for you out of my library is from the book “The Dark Volume” by Gordon Dahlquist. It’s the second book in the series “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” that is an action/mystery/suspense mixture with a taste of steampunk, taking place in a Victorian London of sorts (but in a parallel universe more or less). We follow the fates of Miss Temple, a headstrong heiress, and Cardinal Chang, a thug, as they try to thwart the mysterious plot of a sinister cabal. And almost a thousand pages into the book 2, at last, there comes this paragraph:

“Miss Temple looked up at him, her hands held tight, and saw with a piercing despair the beauty of his jaw, the broad grace of his shoulders, and his especially elegant throat, bound as it was by a filthy neck cloth. Then with a swallow she looked into Chang’s eyes, visible past the skewed black lenses…squinting and damaged…confusing and hideous…and she realized that this man was the exact image of everything that had gone so horribly wrong, of so much she had lost and could never recover.

Like a striking snake Miss Temple stabbed her face up to his, her lips finding the rough stubble of his cheek and then his mouth, which was so much softer than she ever expected.”

In the next moment, Cardinal Chang is stabbed to death (or so it seems), and I had to wait a whole year for the next sequel, which seriously affected my health (but I was ten years younger then, so I survived). Although the last sequel of the book series had some points I would have liked resolved differently (and the things were starting to confuse me at that stage), the romance part played out well.

And finally, I’ll end this post with one of my favorite book endings of all time. And yes, it has something to do with romance – a love gone wrong, where people hurt each other and were never given a second chance to correct their mistakes. At least, not until the main protagonist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the intelligent ocean that covers its surface. But it turns out there are no real second chances – not for this man and not in this universe. “Solaris” by Stanisław Lem.

“On the surface, I was calm: in secret, without really admitting it, I was waiting for something. Her return? How could I have been waiting for that? We all know that we are material creatures, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and not even the power of all our feelings combined can defeat those laws. All we can do is detest them. The age-old faith of lovers and poets in the power of love, stronger than death, that finis vitae sed non amoris, is a lie, useless and not even funny. So must one be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going? Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition? That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox…

Must I go on living here then, among the objects we both had touched, in the air she had breathed? In the name of what? In the hope of her return? I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”

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Could Artificial Intelligence Write Romance?

And Could You Tell the Difference?

Recently, I came across Sudowrite, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that helps writers to write, obviously. Like, really write. You put in a couple of sentences and it spits out the rest of the paragraph in all levels of heat! I played around with it and I was a bit shocked when I realized that a lot of tedious searching for the right adjectives, descriptions, and plot lines can be substituted by a click of my mouse (worth 20$ per month for the subscription). And then I was even more shocked when it turned out there are AI writing tools out there for everything – from ads, e-mails, blogs, up to business pitches and song lyrics. What the heck? Have I been living under a rock?

I might have, but putting that aside, the fact that AIs can write (and probably are writing) instead of humans is kind of sad, terrifying, and intriguing at the same time. It makes one wonder how much of what we read is actually written by humans. And could one tell a difference?

Some research has found that AI-generated texts can be indistinguishable from human ones and can provide insights into future creativity. Fears around the abilities of AI algorithms to generate convincing text have led to some claiming that machine intelligence would render creativity obsolete. For some people, AI writers have even made writing more natural. They have to put in much less effort to create a coherent storyline. The audience doesn’t notice the difference when reading their work, but it helps them save time and get their work done quicker.

To prove my point, this paragraph above has not been written by me, but by Rytr (Best AI Writer, Content Generator & Writing Assistant – as the creators like to point out). Have you noticed? Sure, it helped me fill this blog post, but it also made me feel like a fake, nevertheless. And call me old-fashioned – I still like to write my books without the assistance of Rytr and the likes of him/her/it.

If you want to read more about various AI tools for writing out there, here’s the link to an interesting article providing more information.

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Remembering Conan the Cimmerian

Sure, you may ask what does the brawny fantasy hero Conan has to do with romance stories but I’ll come to that.

On the 22nd of January 116 years ago Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and one of my favorite writers, was born. He wrote his first story when he was ten and started writing professionally at the age of fifteen. For him, it was the easiest way to earn money in times of Depression. For me, earning money with writing is not for the faint of heart, but maybe the times have changed.

“My sole desire in writing is to make a reasonable living,” he said. “I may cling to many illusions, but I am not ridden by the illusion that I have anything wonderful or magical to say, or that I would amount to anything particularly if I did say it. I have no quarrel with art-for-art’s sakers. On the contrary, I admire their work. But my pet delusions tend in other directions.”

And yet, he has created one of the most famous and striking characters in literature, known to a lot of people throughout the world. This brings me to a common conundrum and a question – should books be written for the sake of the art, or should they be entertaining? And why not both? Why should anyone put up with bad writing to read something interesting, and why should anyone tolerate a boring book no matter how well written? I believe they shouldn’t and that it is the job of the writer to tell a good story skillfully, which is what I strive to do. What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion!

Inadvertently I suppose, or maybe not, Robert E. Howard has written one of the greatest romance stories ever. It is called “The Queen of the Black Coast” and tells about the adventures and love of Belit and Conan. If you haven’t read it, and you like fantasy and romance, you should. It’s worth reading if only for the dialogue between Belit and Conan, in which they talk about life, death, and beliefs, and which ends with her famous words:

“…My love is stronger than any death…My heart is welded to your heart, my soul is part of your soul! Were I still in death and you fighting for life, I would come back from the abyss to aid you…”

If that’s not romantic, then I don’t know what is.

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About romance books and romance in books

So, you have this book in your hands and someone comes by and asks, innocently enough, what you are reading. You pause. From this point on, there are several possible scenarios:

1.) You are reading “A Brief History of Time” from Hawking, or Euclid’s “Elements”, in original. In that case, you can proudly show the book cover and subtly brag about your intellectual prowess and knowledge of ancient languages.

2.) You are reading some sort of a non-fiction book, maybe about home improvements or gardening. Or someone’s autobiography. It’s a dignified read. You can use it to start a conversation, and maybe you’ll even end up with a handyman willing to fix your plumbing.

3.) You are reading fiction, but something classic. Like Tolstoy, or Orwell, or Proust. Preferably, the book you are holding shows signs of extensive usage, indicating that you have read it many times, and hopefully underlined important passages. It definitely leaves an impression.

4.) You are reading fiction, but something more popular. A thriller, a detective book, maybe a fantasy or an SF novel. You can show it to the inquisitive passerby with the probable net result of zero. Perhaps you’ll find a kindred spirit and your next partner for binge watching of whatever series you agree upon.

5.) You are reading a romance. The cover is either very sparkly, to attract attention, or dark, to indicate mystery, or in the worst case, it sports a half-naked man or a woman in a compromising position. Good luck with showing that to anyone but your best friend with similar tastes. Fortunately, you are probably not holding a book in your hands, but an eBook reader, which enables you to discreetly turn the screen off and reply to the annoying question by referring to the scenario 1 to 4.

6.) You are reading a romance. You have just come to the steamy part, and you are so engrossed that you don’t even hear the question.

Yet, why is it embarrassing to read a romance novel, but not, for example, a book about model railways? Why do people brag about having written a biography, a self-help book, or an SF/fantasy novel, but rarely that they have written a steamy romance? And why, if someone writes a book and it happens to be a romance, it is not considered to be “serious” enough? I mean, some of the best classics are essentially romances. Think about “Pride and Prejudice” or “The Age of Innocence”. Or if you want to venture away from female authors, how about “Eugene Onegin” or “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”? In each of these books, romance plays if not the most then at least a very important role. This is one of the reasons why these books are such captivating read. And maybe Victor Hugo wanted to attract attention to the values of the Parisian cathedral, but he chose a romantic plot to do it. Right?

Because people love romances! At least women do. I don’t know about men – do they really avoid such books or are they sticking to the scenario Nr. 5?

It is important to add, however, that the books I mentioned are exceptionally well written. Being a fan of the romance genre myself, I have perused quite a few of the books belonging to it, both classical and modern. And admittedly, some of the contemporary works were not that well written (some of the older books as well). And some of them were just plain ridiculous. Nevertheless, do I feel embarrassed for having read them? No, and neither should anyone. These books have fulfilled their purpose of keeping me occupied for a while and cheering me up, and that’s an honest purpose and a commendable one. You can keep track of all the romance (and other) books I’ve read and found time to review in my posts on book reviews. My goal with these reviews was not to criticize, but to help authors gain more visibility, so my star ratings are always three or more on Amazon or Goodreads (and anything I would rate with less I’ll keep to my blog and my blog only…)

However… when I set out on a journey to write a romance novel myself, it was mostly because I lacked something in the majority of the books that I’ve read. What that was I cannot precisely describe. Maybe I wanted the story to offer something more besides the two main characters and their best friends (about whose romantic entanglements we will learn in the second and the third book of the series)? Or I really wanted the character arc to exist? Maybe the romance was too superficial, and I wasn’t convinced? Maybe it was too implausible? Honestly, how many of us encounter billionaire CEOs with a sixpack on a daily basis? Who shapeshift into wolves, bears or dragons occasionally? And do men really like women who use ten swearwords in a row in one sentence? Is that supposed to be charming or am I just too old-fashioned? And don’t get me started on the description of sex in books! Actually, I’ll try to come to that topic later, in another post (if I find time).

To cut the long story short, what elements make a good romance book? It certainly depends on one’s taste, but I prefer to give my characters time to get to know each other and then fall madly in love. I want them to be aware of the faults of the other person and still decide that they like them and want to spend (probably) the rest of their lives with them. And, finally, I want the attraction and tension to build up gradually, all the way to the point when they can’t be ignored any longer. In another words, I want people to interact (and not just in bed), to suffer, to yearn, and I want to be there when they finally find happiness.

With that being said, I am off to continue working on my new story! Stay tuned!

Hello and welcome!

My website www.verenakey.com is ready to receive visitors. I plan to add content to it on a regular basis, so be sure to visit and subscribe to my newsletter.

In the meantime, you can check out my book “Forest Magic” on Amazon. During one of my walks in the woods I came across a house, in the middle of nowhere. The house was dark, ominous and scary. To the best of my knowledge, it was abandoned. But what if it wasn’t? What if its inhabitant was a man who came to hide from the rest of the world after a tragic incident? And what if an unsuspecting young woman, with a past of its own, saw the house and was forced to knock on its door? Anything could happen, right? So, that’s how this story came to be.

“Forest Magic” will be among Kindle Countdown Deals from July 23 to July 30. You will be able to purchase it at a reduced price and see how the story ends.

I am looking forward to your comments and reviews!